If the fixture told us how far Wolves had fallen, the game said everything about how well they are climbing back. No matter what League One keeps throwing in front of them, Kenny Jackett’s team appear to have the capacity to deal with it.
They will be a third of the way through Operation Comeback after tomorrow night’s visit to Carlisle and, at the risk of tempting fate, it is difficult to mount a case against this squad completing the promotion task successfully.
They have the chance to level the games off with a healthy six-point buffer in the automatic promotion zone and Saturday’s defeat of a spirited, committed, organised but ultimately limited Stevenage outfit offered yet further signals that Wolves are still not running at capacity.
There is, you sense, a lot more to come from a group of players who are revelling in, and not recoiling from, the challenge of being every other team’s most prized scalp this season.
As well they might, the cynics might snipe.
It was only this time last year that Wolves were expected to assemble a promotion challenge from the Championship, never mind a further division down and for most of Molineux on Saturday, this was a contest which in name carried the vague whiff of embarrassment.
That is not to decry or disrespect the rise and rise of Stevenage from their humble Hertfordshire roots but for many home fans, Wolves v Stevenage still sounds like an FA Cup third round tie and not a match-up of equals from the same tier.
Molineux’s visitors didn’t even come into being until Derek Dougan had completed his career; the full breadth of the League separated the clubs just three years ago when Wolves were buying Jamie O’Hara after a comfortable first season back in the Premier League.
Like Crawley before them, Stevenage represented first-time opponents and that said as much about the impressive advances of the visitors as it did the calamities of their hosts.
But from the outset of this season, Jackett has spoken about dealing with all of League One’s many and varied challenges and “finding a way to win” – and his team did so for the 11th time in 14 games.
It is sound and stable progress towards their target of an immediate repair to the nightmare that had been 2012-13.
No-one is suggesting Wolves are anywhere close to reclaiming the ground so limply squandered since Stevenage came into the League, but equally you cannot knock their progress so far.
Neither can the wisdom of appointing Jackett, the right man for the right job at the right time, be challenged for this is, quietly and soundly, becoming an endorsement of his leadership qualities.
Jackett’s handling of so much spill-over from the club’s double-relegation, right up to coaxing from both O’Hara and the supporters sufficient common ground for the midfielder to cross the first team threshold again, has shown a shrewd touch.
The dressing room is bouncing with unity and common purpose once more; new young players are learning their trade but their inevitably uneven performances have not stopped the points being log-piled for the mid-winter hardships ahead. Leigh Griffiths has been repatriated as a talismanic goalscorer; Matt Doherty is blossoming as is Carl Ikeme – another huge input from him on Saturday – and everyone just loves Danny Batth.
Kevin Doyle may be just about the easiest professional footballer to handle in the game today, but to see him applying himself so willingly must say something about what is going on behind the curtain; likewise Bakary Sako.
But what is really starting to lock down the trust and belief an initially-sceptical public is now sharing in Jackett is the success of his own recruits. He’s signed four players so far for modest outlays, either in wages or fees, and none have embarrassed him. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Midfielder Kevin McDonald is out now with a hamstring pull, but has logged sufficient quality to have justified his arrival while left-side specialist Scott Golbourne enjoyed his best game to date on Saturday, revelling in the space afforded by opponents who were at times as narrow as a canal tunnel.
And James Henry is just loving it. He scored his team’s second goal, which clinched victory and meant the wide man has now scored in each of the last three games, sometimes the kind of ‘stat’ that can just be a freakish bit of happenstance.
Not in this case.
That triplet says everything about Henry’s football at the moment which came complete with a double-shuffle down in the South Bank-Billy Wright corner late on that flummoxed two defenders and gave Wolves fans a reminder of the kind of smiley-face, crowd-pleasing football which has been much too rare.
Henry will know just how well his current form compares to previous vintages. Suffice to say that it is a reminder of why, as a young player, he was marked out for much bigger things than his current assignment.
But most of all, Molineux should doff its cap to Jackett’s first pick Sam Ricketts who has brought calm and composure, and a high competence for any back-four duty asked of him, in the defence’s post-Johnson era.
Ricketts completed the ‘full-set’ on Saturday when Jackett switched him to right-back and Richard Stearman partnered Batth in the centre, but it was an adjustment executed in the unflustered style to which Wolves fans are now accustomed.
They are also familiar with early goals from their team and Doyle’s far-post finish, from a Sako cross after his marker Jimmy Smith had bounced off the Frenchman and then been left by his acceleration, must have been unnerving for Stevenage.
They hung on in there, with some stout defending and lax finishing by Wolves, to eventually return the compliment to the home side with their best phase of the game midway through the second half.
Ikeme – who is proving every bit as important a match-winner as Griffiths – came to the rescue with saves which twice denied Francois Zoko.
Wolves had frittered away so many good positions, something Jackett knows has to improve, but were eventually able to summon O’Hara for a token 10 minutes after Henry had been played clear by the excellent Lee Evans and applied a measured finish.
O’Hara received a mixed response – perhaps 70-30 in his favour – which after all this time shows last season’s transgressions are not forgiven lightly even when the mood is so radically different.
The bigger problem for the redemption-seeking player, however, will be claiming a place in this new team. It is flush with energy and purpose and for all his talent, O’Hara will know he has to satisfy those requirements to resume his career.